Roy Wood Jr. is one of the comedy’s best journalists.
Giving his hilarious takes on race, fatherhood, pop culture and politics, Roy is one of the most sought-after comedians working today.
A native of Birmingham, Alabama and a graduate of Florida A&M University, Roy has been performing stand-up comedy since he was 19-years old.
Upon graduating from college, Wood returned to Birmingham and became the head writer/producer for the Buckwilde Morning Show (WBHJ 95.7 JAMZ), until 2006.
After finishing third in the seventh season of NBC’s Last Comic Standing, hosting his own morning show, The Roy Wood Jr Show, in 2017, Roy joined Comedy Central’s Emmy-nominated, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah as a correspondent.
Roy released his first Comedy Central one-hour stand-up special, Father Figure, in 2017 and his second Comedy Central one-hour stand-up special, Roy Wood Jr.: No One Loves You in 2019.
Grove: I read once that you said that comedy was a form of journalism. Can you explain that further?
Wood Jr: I think comedy is one of the most effective forms of journalism. Not every comedian is a journalist but if they want to be, they have the people’s undivided attention and they’re able to deliver a perspective or truth in a way that most people wouldn’t consider or wouldn’t have even thought about getting it that way. If comedy was for real, for real journalism, I think Chris Rock would have already won a Pulitzer Prize. Katt Williams too if we really keeping it a buck. Katt Williams can talk about something that’s political and turn around and talk about his fur coat. So he can, he can mix things up. But yeah, I really do think that comedy is one of the best forms of journalism.
Grove: Speaking of that, journalism is in your blood. How did your father’s work influence you ?
Wood Jr. What’s wild is that Stuart Scott influenced me more to pursue journalism because my dad was so in tune with the issues. My dad was, I don’t know if civil rights journalist is the right moniker, but he definitely was a news commentator and he was very opinionated. He covered everything relevant from back to the 50s, the riots, he was in Rhodesia, covering the Civil War, he was in Vietnam volunteering to be embedded with Black platoons, he was in Chicago to document the racism that they were experiencing. His style of journalism was definitely tearing the bandages off the wounds of Black America and showing them not only to us, but white people. So as a teenager it was stressful when I would go with him to a speaking engagement and I would be in the corner, trying to focus on my Game Boy but I understood the work that he did.
When I was 19, my jokes were about college bookstore book buyback and roommates eating your food. When I turned the corner in my 30s, I really started looking at the world differently. Everything that my dad has been talking about, which is permeating back in. So now and a lot of ways. I’m just a funnier version of my father.
My father was in Chicago in the 60s when it was all going down and he definitely saw a lot. It gives me more perspective in what I do. So when Trevor wants to send me off to some wild sh*t to find the jokes, I consider it an honor. Because, you know, I’m able to use a little bit of humor and still talk about things that have a little bit of gravity.
Grove: You mentioned Stuart Scott who was beloved by our generation. What was it about him that resonated with you?
Wood Jr: Stuart Scott was the first black man I saw on TV that talked the way that me and my friends talked around the high school table. For me, I said before, there were like four journalists that really influenced me on what I was trying to do early on. It was Stuart Scott, it was Fred Hickman from CNN. There’s something very astute about Fred Hickman but there was a snark about him, he was having fun. He didn’t have a stick up his ass and he was definitely you know, having fun with that. Jeanne Moos who was at CNN Headline News at the time did a lot of offbeat stories and she used to make me laugh. I loved her. Then there was a guy Van Earl Wright, who did sports on CNN Headline. The way he just did his VO reads was just magical. He would put all of these crazy intimations and inflections on syllables and he could pronounce a word and would add emphasis on a weird syllable in the word, which got your attention. So it’s a trick that I stole comedically decades later on stage. When I started figuring out, sometimes you can have a phrase, that’s not the phrase, but the cadence, the pacing of it, and how you hit the inflections of the syllables can add something and get people’s attention. Journalistically speaking, I wanted to do what everybody else has been doing but I need to figure out a way to do it differently and to me, those four people were very much the pinnacle.
Grove: How was it being in the lunchroom when you’re developing your comedic voice, as well as studying broadcast journalism?
Wood Jr: Becoming a comedian and a journalist at the same time didn’t get me a lot of allies in the classroom from professors. Where I am now, believe it or not, I wasn’t much of a class clown. I was very introverted. I started with people that I had the most intimate relationships with, which is basically my neighborhood and my baseball teammates. I was so focused on going to this class and graduating, that I didn’t really play around a lot. I had professors that were supportive and saw what I was trying to do but then there were also professors that wanted me to remain straight-laced and appropriate, like a traditional journalist. It’s weird. How can I put it? It’s weird when you’re inspired by Stuart Scott but some of your professors want you to be Ed Bradley.
Grove: Would you say that’s a part of the Black respectability that sometimes happens in those spaces?
Wood Jr: Correct. I just think in college in general that there’s two types of professors. There are the ones who give you the tools and the space to figure out how to use the tools and what to do with those journalistic tools. Then there are those that give you the tools and tell you exactly how you should be using.m Eventually, you get old enough to realize that you have to do it your way because the landscape changes too much.
Grove: Why has audio content such as radio and podcasting been so important for you as creator?
Wood Jr: The podcast world is important because for the people that are into podcasting, they are willing to look at the nuance. Podcasts are a great form of media because the nuance is not ruined. There’s no sensationalized headlines, there’s no crazy footage to go with anything. I will put it right up there with print journalism, as being very important.
Grove: As a guy who hit up all the temp agencies, did all kinds of work like just to try to get some money to go to the club, when I came across Roy’s Jr’s Job Fair, I immediately connected with it. Tell me about how you came up with the concept and what was your hardest job?
Wood Jr: I think the hardest thing I’ve ever done for money was when I was on the road as a road comic. In the early days from like 98 to 05, in those days, you would work comedy clubs for booking four or five days in a row. I was only making $250 a week as an MC at the Comedy House Theatre in Columbia, South Carolina. I was there for two weeks straight making $250 a week and I got a job at a temp service. I got up every morning at 5 am and went down to the office and signed in. By 7 am your on a truck headed to a worksite and I will work till five and be at the comedy club at 7:30.
So it was a different job almost every day but it was construction and factory work. There’s was a Quikrete processing plant in Columbia, South Carolina. I worked there for three days in a row bagging 10-pound bags of Quikrete and putting them on a pallet, putting them on a forklift pallet to be loaded onto 18 rolls. I just stood at the end of a conveyor belt and just loaded concrete onto a pallet, wash, rinse, repeat left to right, left to right, left to right, lunch, left or right, left to right. So that was probably the hardest thing out there and it was 90 degrees outside.
Grove: So you know firsthand about the grind of that kind of labor and how all work has dignity.
Wood Jr: Indeed. I just really feel like you’re able to provide for your family or yourself is an impulse that we all have. It’s something that connects us all and it’s no different than food or love. The desire you wake up with every day to eat, to go to be with someone like these things all matter. So I was like, “Well, let me see if there are any podcasts out there that are really focused on this.” There were some that just talked about bad jobs and they were very straight-laced. I figured that there’s got to be something in the middle. If somebody is hiring, let’s talk to them, kind of a micro Dirty Jobs but then within that, let’s also explore the jobs that people have had and the scams that people have had seen run at a job. That’s the part that’s fascinating because in that, that’s when you find out all the ins and outs, like, you better wash your produce you get from the grocery store. Also, it was during a time when with peak COVID unemployment at almost 30 million people in this country and there were are a lot of people that were pivoting from their jobs.
I feel like we are hesitant sometimes to answer that voice in the back of our head that’s telling us to do something different and maybe if you hear me have a conversation with people who answered that voice, it might put you in a different headspace.
I have a friend who pre-COVID was a marijuana lobbyist. He couldn’t do what he needed to do with the politicians like go schmoozing, so he pivots and becomes a gospel singer. Like, he recorded a gospel album, which I don’t quite know how you go from weed to Jesus but that just never left my mind. So with Roy’s Job Fair, I’m talking to people like that. The was just interesting to me and I felt that other people would find it funny as well.
Grove: You’re also the host of Beyond The Scenes, which takes a deep dive into The Daily Show universe. What can we expect from the podcast?
Wood Jr.: Beyond The Scenes is a byproduct of a lot of field pieces which we always wanted to do follow-ups on but we were never able to get to because sh*t keeps happening. The world keeps spinning and new chaos is always afoot. So because of that, we’re not always able to track stories.
I did a story on this Georgia House representative named Carl Gilliard who was lobbying to change the citizen’s arrest law after Ahmaud Arbery got killed. Two months later, it goes to a vote and the citizen’s arrest law is altered but, it’s not completely repealed. They alter it into some bullsh*t where instead of detaining you for 24 hours, a citizen’s arrest can only last up to an hour, which is still enough time to kill someone. That’s stupid. To be able to do a follow-up to that is more difficult to construct it with The Daily Show being 30 minutes and it’s it’s difficult to maintain that balance because there’s just so many things that you’re have to cover in the world. So Beyond The Scenes gives us a way to look back at the citizen’s arrest, and see where we are today on that story.
We did a story where I went out to interview people in Boston to ask them how racist the city is. So we went to Roxbury to talk to Black people and we went to Fenway to talk to white people. Then we spoke with Tanisha Sullivan who’s the head of the Boston NAACP and that was three years ago. Since that time, Boston has had a lot of a progression as a Mayor Kim Janey is sitting in the office as the Mayor right now and there’s a lot of other dope stuff that’s been going on. It’s fun to go back and explore that.
The other cool thing about Beyond The Scenes is that we get into the creative process of the show and how the field piece came to be. So it’s almost like a director’s commentary of the show you love while also still exploring where the issue is in the present day. But we run out of places to put stuff on the show. So the podcast is a perfect place for those things to live. So we’re able to get into that a lot deeper on the podcast than we would ever be able to on the show.
Grove: Why is it important for you to begin the podcast by addressing Black people and mental health in the first episode?
Wood Jr.: The thing that I’ll forever be thankful to Trevor Noah about is that at no point has he ever not allowed us as a show to talk about things that are affecting Black people. When you think about the PTSD, that racism and poverty bring about and the stigmas internally within our community about mental health and then the role religion plays in sometimes being a crutch instead of an accompaniment to proper mental health, that’s something that I feel like we as a race have been dealing with for a long, long time. So you know, I want to start off with something that is really going to help a very specific group of people. We’ll get to everything else. But Black people you know, we take away two blows and look at the state of the country right now as far as race is concerned. We’ll get around to breaking down some of the other stories that we did sooner or later. For now, let’s talk about this. Let’s talk about the lack of Black therapists in general. I think it’s very important to note that, we’re Job Fair is taking something that’s boring and trying to make it funny and entertaining, Beyond The Scenes is about having a deeper, more involved conversation about very complicated issues and given a window into how we constructed the original pieces. There could be a little bit of funny in there as well but it’s two totally different models because we have to continue to educate ourselves on these issues.
The Daily Show’s viewership is predominantly white and I believe there’s a percentage of our viewership that is not as versed in these things as they need to be because of the education they were given and because of the lack of Black company that some of them they keep. So they too need to know what’s going on.